News & Opinion | March 24, 2019 5:00 am

This Civil War Discovery Had Been Buried For 100 Years

Kevin Ambrose found a negative back in the 90s. But it wasn't until last month that he figured out what to do with it.

civil war
A cannon is seen at sunrise at the Manassas National Battlefield Park on Friday June 15, 2018 in Manassas, VA. This area saw fighting during the Battle of Second Manassas or Second Bull Run. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post/Getty Images

In 1992, Kevin Ambrose was scanning a construction site with a metal detector in Centreville, Virginia, near where the Civil War sites of The Battles of First, Second Bull Run, and the Battle of Blackburn’s Ford were fought. He was part of a small group of “diggers” that tried to salvage Civil War artifacts at construction sites before the relics were lost and buried forever.

When his metal detector went off, he hoped for a Civil War buckle. But what he found what a photograph, or a negative image, of a woman etched into a thick, metallic plate. She was wearing an off-the-shoulders gown which was favored by Southern belles and wealthy women during the Civil War era. He didn’t know what to do with it, so he just held on to the photograph.

Then last month, he realized he knew what to do, thanks to Photoshop. He was able to invert the negative into a positive and see more of the woman and her facial expression. He sent the photo on to Tom Liljenquist, who is an expert in Civil War photography, and who has donated a very large collection of Civil War photographs to the Library of Congress, according to The Washington Post. Liljenquist thinks the negative is a copy of a Civil War portrait photograph, called ambrotypes and tintypes. He says the piece is very unique, and the first he’d seen like it.

Meanwhile, Ronald S. Coddington, editor and publisher of Military Images, told Ambrose that the image was made for a printing press, likely made during the 1870s or 1880s.